Every superhero has their own extended cast, and the first trailer for Marvel Studios’ Black Widow gave the wider world its first look at Natasha Romanov’s. David Harbour’s Red Guardian was prominently on display in his red and grey costume, but there was another superhero in hiding given proment billing: Yelena Belova.
Though she only appears in standard casual spy getup in the teaser, Yelena, played by Florence Pugh, is a character with a long history in Marvel Comics, and that history includes taking over the mantle of Black Widow from Natasha Romanoff, not once but twice.
Who is Black Widow’s Yelena Belova?
Yelena was created by writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones, and her first major role was in Black Widow’s 199 solo miniseries. Yelena saw herself as the true successor to the name of the Black Widow, which, in her view as a loyal agent, Natasha had forfeited the moment she defected to work with the Avengers. So, Yelena set out to reclaim the title for Mother Russia, and for the Red Room.
What’s the Red Room?
Like most of the real countries that appear in the Marvel Universe, the comic book version of Russia is ... different.
In Marvel Comics, the Red Room is Soviet Russia’s most infamous espionage school. There, Russian officials groom young girls into becoming elite deep-cover spies, through a mixture of espionage training, biochemical meddling, and the manipulation of their memories. Many of the Red Room’s Black Widow candidates, Natasha among them, have implanted memories of being trained as dancers for the Russian Ballet.
Before she could bring herself to defect, Natasha had to resist all of that psychological conditioning. When Yelena showed up to fill her Soviet boots, Natasha helped — OK, manipulated — her into realizing how little her government values the little girls from the Red room. At the end of her first story, Yelena defects and retires to Cuba.
But in comic book universes, very few characters get left on the bench forever. Yelena got involved with SHIELD, became a superpowered villain, made it to the high council of AIM, and then — when Natasha died at the hands of an evil Captain America — kept on her good work as Black Widow, assassinating Hydra officials.
Marvel Studios doesn’t have plans for a Black Widow sequel
This one movie seems to be Scarlett Johansson’s swan song for the character. But with Florence Pugh playing Yelena Belova, Natasha’s “sister” from the Red Room, in Black Widow, they’ve got a ... what’s a properly Russian way to put this?
They’ve got a Chekov’s Black Widow, primed and ready to go.